Ten shortlisted artists, including Rachel Whiteread, Mark Wallinger and Dorothy Cross, have begun working on their proposals for Darwin's Canopy, a permanent artwork that will become part of a gallery ceiling in the Grade I listed Natural History Museum, London.
The artists take inspiration from Charles Darwin's ideas and what they mean for our understanding of nature and our place within it today.
'What I find most exciting about this shortlist is that each artist takes a very distinct approach,' said Bergit Arends, curator of contemporary art at the Museum. 'I'm looking forward to seeing their ideas take shape.'
'This commission is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to contribute to the fabric of this historic building,' says Arends. 'We hope it will offer all the artists the chance to explore new territory and concepts, and present their work to a different audience.'
Initial sketches, drawings and mock-ups that illustrate each of the proposals will go on public display at the Museum from 4 June. The selected artist will be announced later in June and the artwork will be unveiled on Charles Darwin's 200th birthday on 12 February 2009.
The shortlisted artists are: Christine Borland, Dorothy Cross, Mark Fairnington, Tania Kovats, Alison Turnbull, United Visual Artists (Matt Clark & Chris Bird), Mark Wallinger, Richard Woods, Richard Wentworth and Rachel Whiteread.
The project is part of the Museum's ongoing contemporary arts programme and is part of Darwin200, a national programme celebrating Charles Darwin's ideas, impact and influence around the bicentenary of his birth.
On the other side of the world, another project of Darwin200, the Galapagos Conservation Trust, begins. It is an artists' research residency programme for British artists to spend time exploring both the natural wonders and current challenges of the Galapagos.
The rare wildlife and dramatic habitats of the islands, their historical role in shaping Darwin's ideas and their pristine nature have made them a double World Heritage Site.
Artists will mix with both the local and scientific communities on the islands and produce work based on their experiences there.
'The islands have extraordinary resources but face threats from every angle,' said Toni Darton, Chief Executive of the Galapagos Conservation Trust, 'from the rapid growth in tourism and population in the past 15 years, to the need to control introduced species, which is why both UNESCO and the Ecuadorian government declared them at risk last year.'
'We are always looking for new ways to raise public awareness of conservation and the issues that make Galapagos as relevant to the world today as in Darwin's time.'
The residency programme is being managed in conjunction with the Charles Darwin Foundation and curated by Greg Hilty of Plus Equals.
Both projects have been made possible by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, which has awarded significant grants to each.